Lawsuit filed against CE logging in IRA, WSA, RNA and Old-Growth

We’re discussed the appropriate, or inappropriate, use of Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) by the Forest Service in the past (here and here).  What about a CE for a 17,000 acre logging project that includes logging within Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests? Is a CE really an appropriate level of analysis and public input for such a project?   Clearly some folks think not.  The following is a press release from the Alliance for Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council.  A copy of the complaint is here.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit on Friday in Federal District Court against the Forest Service to stop the Little Belt Mountain Hazard Tree Removal Project in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The Forest Service plans to log 17,000 acres on National Forest Lands, including logging in Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests.  The Forest Service authorized these activities under a Categorical Exclusion from the environmental analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Up until now the Forest Service has done a full environmental analysis on large roadside logging projects,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  “We didn’t oppose the agency on those projects, but in this case the agency is excluding itself from the requirement to keep the public informed of the environmental effects and to provide public input on the proposal.  Categorical Exclusions were intended for purposes such as mowing the lawn at the Ranger Station or painting outhouses, not logging over 17,000 acres.”

“Herbicide spraying and logging will occur in several already degraded watersheds and along several streams that are considered ‘impaired’ due to sediment,” Garrity explained.  “These areas provide habitat for the westslope cutthroat trout and the Western toad, both are considered ‘sensitive species’ on the Forest and both will be impacted by logging – especially when you consider approximately 1,700 acres of logging and herbicide spraying will occur within 150 feet of streams.  The result will be to dump more sediment into already degraded streams where these native fish are struggling to survive”.

“I have recently driven roads in the Little Belt Mountains and there is evidence of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, but it is in patches, not forest wide,” explained Sara Johnson, Director of Native Ecosystems Council and former Gallatin National Forest biologist.  “Where the beetles have killed trees next to the road, firewood cutters have already done a good job cutting them down.  It’s a mystery why the Forest Service wants to log 17,000 acres of so-called ‘hazardous trees’ when there isn’t a hazard. The only hazard will be to the native wildlife when 17,000 acres of important habitat is clearcut and to the taxpayers who have to pay for it.”

“There are already massive infestations of noxious weeds, such as thistle and houndstongue, along roads,” Johnson said.  “They can’t control the weed problem now and logging will just make it worse.”

“The Canada lynx, listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act, has historical presence on the Forest including recent sightings in the project area. Lynx, wolverine, black-backed woodpecker, Northern goshawk, Western toad, and Northern three-toed woodpecker all are known to occur in the area and their numbers will be further reduced by these massive clearcuts,” concluded Johnson.

“We support logging to protect public safety,” Garrity said.  “But the public needs to be kept informed to ensure that the Federal Government is following the law. The public needs to be shown that there is a real safety hazard and not just an imagined excuse for more subsidized logging.

“It is unfortunate that we have to ask the court to intervene to force the Federal Government to let the public be involved in the management of our National Forests, Garrity concluded.  “But in the end, we firmly believe the public should have a say in the management of public lands…even if we have to go to court to get it.”

15 thoughts on “Lawsuit filed against CE logging in IRA, WSA, RNA and Old-Growth”

  1. Matthew..

    I don’t get that if the hazard trees are defined as in the decision document, are they all hazard trees, and if they are all hazard trees won’t they fall down anyway? And 2 tree lengths from a road can really be “massive clearcuts”.

    I can’t pull the quotes from the decision document out of the pdf for some reason, here it is.
    it’s the one labelled decision memo.

    Here’s their description:

    Hazard trees dropped or removed on about 575 miles of priority roads for about 1 1/2 tree lengths each side. Tree not presenting a hazard would be retained. Same for selected rec & admin sites except for about 2 tree lengths.

    Note in Colorado we have done some of the same things. I think some of the piles are still there. I guess that’s “subsidized pile generation” ;).

  2. I was curious about the actual facts, indeed, that’s why I looked up the decision memo.

    Another question is whether the roadless areas are really roadless if they are only cutting trees along roads in roadless areas…are the roads on the edge?

    Does 75 feet (1.5 of some tree lengths) from a road have “roadless characteristics” that would be impacted?

    I am also generally curious about what roads are doing in WSAs, IRAs, and RNAs, if they were there when the areas were mapped.

    • Questions are always good, but when a pattern of questioning reveals a uniformly constructed strategy designed to only question one’s opponents instead of one’s own position, it’s just another way of keeping “uncomfortable knowledge at bay through denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement.”

      • David, I would be comfortable with” yes, there are roads in our roadless areas that have hazard trees.” Or “no, that was a mistake in mapping our roadless areas.”

        Don’t you think it’s a legitimate question on how we could “protect roadless characteristics” along roads?

        I think we learn from our opponents by raising questions about the facts of a project.

        • Sharon, an article about the lawsuit in today’s Great Falls Tribune may help answer some of your questions:

          “Some 1,238 acres of the logging would occur in a roadless area, and work also is planned along seven miles of road in the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area and on two miles of road in two research natural areas.”

        • A roadless area is defined by the roads that bound it. Once you’re OFF the road, you are IN the roadless area. The FS’ penchant for buffering roads with a strip of non-roadless land between the road and the core roadless area is a slippery slope. Of course some true hazard trees need to be removed, along well-traveled roads, but there are many games played in this hazard tree arena – trees that are not really hazards because they lean away from the road, trees too far from the road to hit the road, trees along roads that should be closed, etc. The widespread practice of hazard tree removal along the de facto high density of roads in the National Forest contributes the the cumulative shortage of snags and is itself a major limit on snag habitat development across the landscape.

          • What happens when a fire starts at the end of a long road plagued by hazard trees? What happens when that road has multiple fallen trees across it? What happens when those snags fall and someone is trapped on that road? What happens when that dead trees falls over and blocks a major culvert? Roads MUST come with buffers, otherwise close the roads with hazard trees on them. It is NOT a “non-issue”.

  3. Another way to remedy the situation is to close all affected roads to the public, and make them usable only by Forest Service people who need to be in there. Once all hazard trees have fallen, then the roads can be re-opened.

    • Larry, I gotta say that trees potentially falling on FS employees “who need to be there”doesn’t really seem to be an adequate solution. What am I missing?

      • Well, if the hazards are that bad, then no FS employees need to be there, including trailheads, campgrounds, administrative sites, etc. Yes, it is an option but, not one that anyone would really want. Yes, it is a very sarcastic option but, one that protects the government from wrongful death lawsuits.

      • The public accepts a lot of risks in a lot of situations. I can’t help but think that hazard tree removal has more to do with the agency’s culture of control, and money, than actual safety concerns.

        • Hazard tree projects are merely a symptom of the broken system. It used to be that local green timber sales would take down hazard trees within their sale areas. However, now that there are radically fewer acres treated, many roads have many hazard trees, which plug culverts, which causes road slumps and slides, which cause hydrological problems, which cause wildlife problems.

          Also, one has to be certified to mark hazard trees in Region 6. Often, many old trees along roads have obvious defects and rot, and some not nearly so obvious. We had to convince a hydrologist of our choices in hazard trees, in a special “area of hydrological concern”. One particular tree was a HUGE sugar pine, at least five feet in diameter. It had a beautiful crown, and a large scar, from when they built the road. The hydrologist didn’t want to cut this tree with the scar facing the road. The logger then took off his hardhat, and smacked the tree with it, producing a booming hollow sound. She agreed to let us cut it, at that point, with the conditions that the part of the tree felled below the road (felled uphill towards the road) would be bucked off and left in place. When she came back out, two weeks later, I showed her that the first 40 feet of the tree was completely hollow, and was “pancaked” to a long pile of crushed log. The loggers were more than happy to leave that portion in place.

          I have worked a lot of hazard tree projects, and I assure you that I only marked true hazard trees. Yes, I have seen questionable trees marked but, I made sure I could justify each and every tree marked to be removed.

  4. I say, that any roads that lead to that “favorite wilderness area trailhead”, should be allowed to “close in” with deadfall. My guess is, that any roads through “WSA” of “IRA” probably leads to such trailheads.


Leave a Comment